As he embarks on his first tilt at the national bowls championships for 18 years, West End's Dennis Osborne should have cause for optimism.
The 68-year-old retired dairy farmer - he has just moved to New Plymouth from the Huirangi farm where he has lived his whole life - has enjoyed an outstanding season on the greens.
That was never better illustrated than when he combined with David Bennett to win the Christmas pairs title earlier in the month.
It followed a succession of consistent performances that included a meritorious effort playing singles in the division one interclub competition.
''Those singles games gave me the confidence.''
Osborne's modesty would obviously prevent him from acknowledging so, but he could rightly claim to be at the top of Taranaki bowls at the moment.
Clearly, he is in fine form as a player, but he is also in his third term in charge of the Taranaki representative side and has long been regarded as one of the gentlemen of the sport in the province.
Osborne first took up outdoor bowls in 1982, joining the nearby Lepperton club, dhalthough his involvement in bowls began in the indoor version back in the 1950s.
Osborne actually claimed the North Taranaki champion-of-champions fours way back in 1959, aged just 15.
In the outdoor game, his first major taste of success came with the Taranaki junior side that won the John Flett Trophy in 1985, with Osborne skipping Grant Malloy in the pairs.
In 1992, he claimed the Taranaki open singles title and, two years later, combined with Bennett, Boof Fleming and Geoff Hawken to win the prestigious Ansett Classic at Onehunga.
The years in between have been lean, despite his domination at Lepperton, but his loyalty to his sport and his club have remained first.
Even after he and wife Joy moved to New Plymouth, he continued to tend to the green at Lepperton.
''Unbelievable,'' was Osborne's concise answer on winning the Christmas pairs. ''I never thought I would win another one,'' he said.
''I went to West End to play with good guys and am just grateful for the opportunity.''The feeling from skip Bennett was mutual.
''I recognised the potential that he has and wanted to play with him.''But the partnership, which went through the Christmas pairs with eight straight wins, will not continue into the nationals, which start on Friday.
Osborne had originally intended to play in the singles and the fours, where he will team with fellow West Enders Noel Bracken, Allan White and Alex McKay, and bypass the pairs.
However, highly promising Nolantown junior, Scott Roberts, who debuted in the Taranaki senior side last month, needed to find a new partner after Graham Baxter withdrew.
And Roberts could thank his lucky stars for securing Osborne and forming a likely pairing.
''I'm looking forward to leading for Scotty in the pairs,'' Osborne said.
While acknowledging the toughness of the field in all disciplines, Osborne was hopeful of qualifying and would ''see what happens after that''.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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